A Soccer Game at Camp Saad, Without a Ball or a Goal

(Andrea Bruce/The Washington Post)

A short drive onto what remains of one of Saddam Hussein's largest military bases, past skeleton barracks and makeshift roads, a deserted hangar traps the echo of laughter. Movement -- fast, almost blurred, mostly legs -- can be spied on the other side of a broken brick wall where seven boys are kicking around a stolen shoe.

"My slipper, my slipper, you dogs! Give me my slipper!" yells a 9-year-old wearing a green-striped soccer jersey. He isn't the youngest, but he is the most earnest and, therefore, the most vulnerable to teasing. His tan plastic sandal rolls on its edge with surprising precision, then flips into the air at chest level. Stepping and tripping, the boys bump the shoe in a new direction, away from its owner. They are experts at controlling it and making it bounce like a ball.

The boys are part of a refugee community living at Camp Saad, a base on the outskirts of Baqubah that in 2003 was looted of almost everything, including window frames and light fixtures. They are squatters, Arabs forced to flee their homes in Kirkuk, to the north, when Kurds reclaimed land taken by Hussein. One man on the base estimated that hundreds of Arab families are hiding in the camp's ruins. For five years, they have lived without running water, electricity and, in most cases, doors.

Running along the wall of the courtyard, the smallest boy falls behind, his nose running. He lurches past a clownlike painting of Hussein and catches up to the others when the shoe hits a bed. Like most Iraqis, the squatters sleep outside at night to find relief from the heat.

In minutes, the boys are lying in a pile, panting. The prized sandal has returned to its owner's foot.

A U.S. military convoy passes the base, looking small in the desert distance. The boys laugh and spit. They select a new ball, a pink sandal, and one of them kicks it into the air.

By Andrea Bruce

By washingtonpost.com  |  September 1, 2008; 8:00 AM ET  | Category:  Baqubah
Previous: Pause for Rest in the Desert | Next: In Diyala, Payday at the Bank


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Keep up the good work.

Posted by: mmrudy | September 2, 2008 5:53 PM

Hello Andrea,
I have enjoyed every one of your poetic and sublime photo essays documenting the lives of "unseen" Iraqis.
I worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Gulf Region Division (GRD), Baghdad 2004-2005 as the USACE Iraq photojournalist. I traveled throughout Iraq, mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan, photodocumenting rehabilitation and new construction USACE projects, USACE personnel and their Iraqi counterparts. The most rewarding part of the job was working and traveling with USACE-employed Iraqi engineers, Kurdish Peshmurgas (who befriended, drove and guarded us), and Iraqis I met on my own and who became my dear friends... a civilian guard from Baghdad named Ali I met while riding my mountain bike in the emplty space of the former Baghdad Zoo, Abdullah, a native Baghdadi and civilian guard at GRD HQ whom always had the warmest smile on his face, a fifteen year old orphan boy named Amer who hawked DVDs to the US Army soldiers in the International (Green) Zone and slept in a bus shelter in the Green Zone every night. Dinesh, a contract worker from Sri Lanka who was a food server in the dining facility I ate at when I was in Baghdad invited me to his 22nd birthday party in the one-room trailer he shared with twelve other Sri Lankan buddhist contract workers. And Karzan, who was my charismatic and very funny bodyguard/driver whenever I was in Erbil (the oldest city in the world), Iraqi Kurdistan. I treasure this most vivid episode of my life.
If you would like to see some of my Iraq images (20,000+), please click on any of these FLICKR links:



Regards, Jim Gordon

Posted by: Jim Gordon | September 3, 2008 5:36 PM

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